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Duggan creates web portal on Detroit information

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan on Thursday unveiled a Web portal that will give the public access to detailed department information including crime statistics, permits, finances and contracts.

"What we are doing today is what government should do," Duggan said. "I'm a great believer that transparency makes government better. We are breaking new ground here."

Officials touted the initiative as a major step toward a more transparent city government.

Beginning Thursday, "Go Data" is displaying non-personal, public information from nine city agencies including the Detroit Police; building, planning and development; recreation; public works; Assessing; city clerk; and transportation departments.

It also features home demolition information from the Detroit Land Bank Authority. Other areas, including financial transactions, will come online in the coming weeks and months, officials said.

Duggan said he signed an executive order Thursday directing all city departments to take all data that's not restricted by state or federal law and make it available to residents on the site.

A separate, upcoming order will require all senior management to file a disclosure document of any relationships they or relatives may have with anyone doing business with the city. That information will also be publicly accessible, he said.

The technology will help Detroit meet conditions outlined in Michigan's"grand bargain" legislation during the city's bankruptcy that will help it emerge from oversight, he added.

The city must keep its budget balanced and pay its bills for three consecutive years, and is operating under a Financial Review Commission. But another condition for exiting state control, Duggan said, is having all contracts available online in real time.

"I'm committed to that and the course of that process because I knew this (Web portal) was coming," he said.

Beth Niblock, the city's chief information officer, says other large cities are using the technology including Seattle, New York, Boston and Los Angeles.

The effort was an outgrowth of a recommendation made when a White House technology team visited the city in 2013, she said.

"This is a first step in a very long journey and, a lot of times, the first step is the hardest one," Niblock said. "I don't think we've made it a secret here in Detroit that we have a lot of systems that aren't completely current."

The portal is established through a partnership with Socrata Inc. and the Socrata Foundation.

Chris Metcalf, director of developer experience for Socrata, said the company has 200 customers.

"It's what citizens are expecting of their cities," he said.

Duggan is also creating a task force and citizens advisory group to facilitate conversations about "how we do this in an intelligent way." The Open Data Advisory Committee will be chaired by Niblock.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig said the portal will be a critical tool for connecting with the community.

"It's an opportunity to reinforce what I believe in and that's transparency," he said. "I'm excited that crime is trending in the right direction, but our work is not done. We still have a way to go. But I know one of the success factors is how well we work with our community, and clearly this is evidence of that."

In the coming months, police content on the site will grow and hopefully it will help identify trends and reduce crime in the city, he said.

Visitors will gain access to the date, time, location and type of crimes being reported. It also provides access to status of building permits and past, ongoing and future home demolition projects.

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